Ed. Note: Another debate has broken out at SJ! Chris Seaton has called the question:
Resolved: in the interests of public health, safety, and reviving a struggling economy, the United States should require vaccine credentials for all citizens 18 years of age or older.
Chris will be taking the affirmative, while I will take the negative. My post follows, and Chris’ post beating me to an old, smelly, radish pulp is here.
As of this writing, I’m one shot in, with the second coming soon. It took a lot of effort to schedule that first shot, but I wanted to be vaccinated. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concerns other people raise about unknown consequences. They are reasonable doubts. I just don’t share them and have made my choice. I prefer to survive.
And that being the case, would it not be in my enlightened self-interest to favor a vaccine passport so that we can all go back our jobs, schools, lives without fear? The easy answer might best be found in the maxim, inter arma enim silent lēgēs. Is this not war, if with a nasty virus if not an full-size combatant? Are we not prepared to sacrifice some small degree of freedom for our survival?
Well, perhaps, if one doesn’t mind strained existential analogies. More than half a million “excess” deaths have already occurred, and that’s a tragedy bordering on Stalin’s statistic. It’s not something to take lightly. But then, neither are the rights and concerns implicated by the imposition of “papers,” whether created for the safest of purposes or not, to engage in ordinary American life.
As we’re already well down Vaccination Lane, there are some practical issues that would make the imposition of a vaccine passport difficult. Some of us will find proving our vaccinations fairly easy. Others, not so much, their cards tossed or lost, but of little concern until it became a mandate to buy more toilet paper. There will be issues, fights, cries of who is most burdened and who will suffer the most, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they both turn out to be the same cohorts.
The technical problems can, of course, be overcome with some degree of cooperation, acquiescence and understanding. But then, if we’re still capable of such glorious traits, they should be put to a higher use than the creation of a government issued and required document that we’re to show in order to be accepted as a full member of society.
And that’s where the more fundamental problem arises. It’s not that a vaccine passport, which facilitates our ability to feel safe in the face of a pandemic, is such an inherently unreasonable solution to a problem that has taken the lives of so many of us and our loved ones. Beyond the logistical issues, it’s entirely understandable that many people will put safety ahead of other concerns. That, however, is the line at issue here.
Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
It’s fair to quibble over whether a vaccine passport means more than “a little temporary safety,” or whether the right to fully engage in American society without one is to give up “essential liberty.” Franklin could be a bit hyperbolic. Yet, this was, and for the moment remains, a nation where any individual can theoretically set off to cross it without being required to show any passport, vaccine or otherwise. I say “theoretically,” as this isn’t entirely true, particularly when one is found walking through a neighborhood with the wrong skin color.
We are required to possess an assortment of identifier already, from drivers’ licenses to social security numbers. We must register to vote and register for the draft. Some of us, at least. And our children must show their public schools proof of vaccinations before they are allowed in, except where a religious exemption is accepted. But the one line that has not yet been crossed is that we must possess a government-issued vaccination passport, a piece of paper, more likely plastic with mysterious anti-forgery protections, that will entitle us to enter, and entitle others to exclude us, from the ordinary participation in society.
The slippery slope is, of course, a logical fallacy. Just because it might be required that we cross this line, just this once, just for a while, does not necessarily mean that we have finally succumbed to an abdication to that final freedom, the liberty to not be required to show our government proof of worthiness before engaging with our brothers, sisters, friends and strangers. But we have, sadly, found ourselves sliding down that slope with regularity, as the conceptual ledge that could have prevented us from slip sliding away was forgotten while the rubric became the rule. And this comes at a moment in our history, a climate if you will, where an inexplicable trust in government is at its apex. Why fear for your liberty when the good guys are in control?
If you run a business and don’t want anyone to come in who hasn’t been vaccinated, you are certainly free to discriminate on that basis. Can you trust your fellow citizen to honor your wishes? Probably not. Among the many virtues that have been replaced is honor. Does that leave us to justify further devaluation of the freedom of our fellow Americans, because we can’t trust them and, to be honest, think a great many don’t share our values? That’s one way to react to this downward spiral of division and mistrust.
Once we allow our toxic combination of fear, mistrust and blind faith in government to save us from ourselves to trump our liberty, can we ever claim it back? Will the end of this pandemic, should that end ever truly come, mean the end of government-issued papers that permit us to engage in public functions after showing them to the gatekeepers? Will there be a next, a new, need for papers, since having crossed that line just this one time, it’s no longer a line not to be crossed?
There’s no unringing the bell here, and perhaps we’re doomed to eventually be forced to carry a national, government identification to prove whatever it is the dominant group in government at the moment wants us to prove. We’re not quite there yet, but the requirement of a vaccine passport may well be the last tiny step taken with the best of intentions that crosses a line that we will never uncross.
I’m thankful to have gotten the vaccine. I’m also thankful to have the freedom to have made my decision to get it rather than be denied my right as an American to participate in society if my choice was not what the government required of me. Get vaccinated, please, but let’s not give up our right to make that choice freely, or the right to be an fully-engaged American without a paper showing our government’s approval.
Rebuttal: Chris’ zen reopening of ‘Merica, hat tips to Karen included, is no small concern, but raises the problem of getting vaccinated rather than getting a card from the government proving your worthiness. Get vaccinated. I suspect we’ll still be told to wear masks anyway, which might be a burden on our freedom of choice, but at least not one that puts us at the government’s mercy. Karen isn’t going silent that easily.
Chris isn’t wrong that we were a bit too free with giving away our freedom after 9/11. I posit that we should learn from our mistakes and not just give up what’s left.